The Seafair Sedan  That Started It All

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With Chez Nous sold, the Neales are looking for their next boat, perhaps a fast trawler.

With Chez Nous sold, the Neales are looking for their next boat, perhaps a fast trawler.

I sold my 53-foot Gulfstar motorsailer a little while ago. I hated selling her, and I miss her dearly. But the idea is to get a boat that’s smaller and much faster. We’re no longer raising and educating a family aboard, so we’re looking hard to find just what we want.

I’ve bought and sold many boats since my first one in the 1950s. I know by now that each phase of life finds you wanting different boats. If you know just what you want, it can be relatively easy, but often it isn’t easy to know just what you want. Once upon a time, however, I knew exactly what I wanted.

Photo of Tom Neale

Tom Neale

I had already owned lots of boats. They were all wood — most of them pine — and they did what pine boats do so well: They rotted. But I saw hope. I read all the boating magazines I could get my hands on, and I’d been reading about this magical stuff called fiberglass. I couldn’t believe it was true, but the magazines and the folks who’d been out and about in the world said it was. Fiberglass boats seemed the answer to my prayers.

I’d only had open skiffs, although I had built plywood cabins on the bows of several of them. But I could sleep in those cabins and “go inside,” out of the rain. I liked the idea of a cabin boat, and I knew I’d like the idea of a fiberglass boat. I really wanted a fiberglass yacht with a cabin. I read avidly about them. Unlike the other teenage boys who were “only reading the stories” in their favorite magazines, I was also looking at the pictures. I was in lust … but with the 18-foot Glasspar Seafair Sedan.

Within that 18 feet were a steering station, a helm chair for the steering wheel, a windshield, two seats and a cabin with 12-volt lights, faux teak and V bunks with storage underneath. Amazingly, there was a floor with a plastic carpet and a bilge underneath where water stayed (most of the time) so that I didn’t always have wet feet. And it was fiberglass.

I took all the money I saved from crabbing, cutting grass and working at my father’s sawmill, and I made a deal with my friend who owned the gas station in town. He also sold boats on the side, and somehow he had gotten to be a dealer for Glasspar, the goingest thing around. With my father’s help — as in financial help — I made a deal.

When my yacht arrived, I couldn’t believe it. The cushions, seats and bunks were covered with clear plastic for protection during travel. I’d never heard of such a thing on a boat, and I vowed to keep it there as long as I could. (It wasn’t long.) And the smell was the most wonderful smell since Adam first sniffed apple blossoms. It was the smell of a new fiberglass boat. The only boat smell I’d known was the smell of rotten crab bait and rotten wood.

There was one problem: She didn’t have an engine. So I used the old 25-hp Johnson that had been with me through high and low waters. This engine had been given to me by a nice neighbor. It had been underwater three times but still ran — more or less. It modestly underpowered that 18-foot Glasspar, but we could get up on plane — kind of — and run all day on the gas I stored in the cockpit.

I was styling.

The Glasspar Seafair Sedan was the first of many boats that Tom and Mel enjoyed together.

The Glasspar Seafair Sedan was the first of many boats that Tom and Mel enjoyed together.

I bought a Coleman two-burner pressurized gas stove that folded up when not in use so I could set it on the shelf on the back of the cabin bulkhead to port. No matter what I cooked, or screwed up, on that stove, it was all good. I took many overnight trips, not to mention the long days on the water between my summer jobs.

And mirabile visu, she even had a toilet. I’d never seen such a thing on a boat, although I knew they existed on ocean liners and the like. My daddy had made a deal with the owner of the gas station for one that was factory-installed. It was underneath the lid on the little storage area in the V between the bunks.

You could sit there in total privacy, looking out at the scenic view from the sliding windows in the cabin. I preferred to open the door in the aft bulkhead and look out at the vast expanse of my carpeted cockpit with that little rusty outboard hanging off the stern. Of course, this kind of defeated the privacy feature of the head, but I seldom had anybody go out with me, anyway. I’d always stay out on the river too long, and most of my friends had other things they wanted to do.

As time went on, I was off to college and had to leave the boat every winter, hanging on slings in a friend’s shed. It was tough, and sometimes on warm weekends I’d drive two hours or so to come home and sit on her. But school brought other things, such as a friend who would go out on the river with me for long times. She became my best friend. We got married seven months after we met — almost 50 years ago.

This Seafair Sedan brought me from teenager to the beginning of adulthood, although some would debate that I ever arrived at the latter. It brought me from wonderful days as a lonely boy on the rivers to wonderful days with Mel, my wife, with whom I soon bought another boat — a much bigger sailboat with two cabins and its own enclosed head. We’ve bought many boats since then, and we’re doing it again. We think she’ll be a fast trawler. Ah, the phases of life.

With phases come changes. And with boats, the changes are often bittersweet, as is true of other things. We are retiring “Sea Savvy” with this column. Like my Seafair Sedan, I’ll remember it fondly. I’ll miss sharing with you and you sharing with me, as many of you have. And hopefully I’ll see you on the water with my next boat.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue.